Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Film Ahead is a weekly column highlighting special events and repertory programming for the discerning Camberville filmgoer. It also includes capsule reviews of films that are not feature reviewed. 

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Local focus

The Brattle Theatre launches a series of special features and seasonal programing this week. First up is a presentation of the 2019 documentary “Fish & Men” co-presented by the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts on Tuesday. The film, looking at the sustainability of the cod population and the local fishing families who rely on it to make ends meet, features the owner of the mini Cape Cod fish empire Mac’s Seafoods. On Wednesday the Revolutions Per Minute Festival celebrates experimental filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh (in attendance) and her shorts delving into cultural identity. On Thursday, The Brattle hosts the opening night of the Boston Asian American Film Festival (the rest of which takes place at ArtsEmerson and online) with a screening of Tom Huang’s “Dealing with Dad,” about a young woman and her brother reconnecting as they have to leave their lives and come home to take care of their overbearing father. Huang will be in attendance for a Q&A.

Of spooks and boos, The Brattle brings a “Strange Invaders” series that starts Friday with “The Faculty,” the 1998 what’s-up-with-the-teachers alien-invasion thriller from Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids,” “El Mariachi”). It’s eclectic ensemble includes Clea DuVall, Elijah Wood, Famke Janssen, Jon Stewart, Jordana Brewster, Josh Hartnett, Piper Laurie, Robert Patrick and a cameo by disgraced Ain’t It Cool News editor Harry Knowles. On Saturday, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones team up in “Men in Black” (1997), and Sunday brings the original “Thing”: the 1951 “The Thing from Another World” directed by Christian Nyby and an uncredited Howard Hawks (yup, you read that right). This version revolves around a mysterious shape-shifting alien in a scientific research center in the Arctic Circle; the 1982 reimagining by John Carpenter takes place in Antarctica. Keeping with the theme, The Brattle hosts the area premier of Nyla Innuksuk’s “Slash/Back” (Friday through Oct. 26) about a group of Inuit girls skilled in hunting and survival who encounter a possessed polar bear, learn of its otherworldly possessor and decide to take the fight to the unwelcome ET.

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World cinema is on display at the Harvard Film Archive this week as it wraps up “The Face of Time … The Recent Films of Tsai Ming-liang” series with “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” (2006), a sociopolitical sojourn in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. The film, banned by the Malaysian government, plays Friday. Also in for a limited run is Martine Syms’ latest, “The African Despertine” (Thursday, Friday and Sunday), a comedic contemplation on art and society chronicling the final 24 hours of a young black woman (Diamond Stingily) in her MFA program. Syms, a 2022 Josep Luís Sert Practitioner in the Arts in Harvard’s art, film and visual studies department, will be on hand. Cueing up for Saturday is the “Do It Only If It Burns When You Don’t” series on Anand Patwardhan’s film activism, starting with “Reason,” the documentarian-activist’s 2018 chronology of social injustices in India told in eight chapters.

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Somerville Theatre repertory programing keeps its theme of October chills Saturday and Sunday with three tales: “Return of the Living Dead” – not part of the George Romero series that began with “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), but a spinoff enabled by a legal battle between Romero and the film’s writer, James Russo. This 1985 film, a rare directorial turn by “Alien” (1979) writer Dan O’Bannon, wove comedy into the genre and was a surprise hit at the time, though its sequels were not. Also hailing from 1985 is the gory “Re-Animator” by Stuart Gordon, based on an H.P. Lovecraft story about a Dr. Frankenstein-wannabe med student. And speaking of Herr Frankenstein, Sunday brings the 1931 adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel by James Whale starring a tall, languid Boris Karloff, bolts and all.

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This week’s “’80s Frights” Retro Replay movie at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema is “Videodrome” (1983) by David Cronenberg (“A History of Violence,” “Scanners”) – a cult classic starring James Woods as a small-time cable TV president obsessed with a rogue broadcast of snuff programming; glam-punk icon Debrah Harry is an S&M talk show host also titillated by the show. The film, now considered by many to be essential Cronenberg, was a box office failure, making back only $2.1 million of its nearly $6 million budget. Aural and moody, it’s a dial-back to the early days of cable, when TV was just going into 24/7 mode.

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In theaters and streaming

‘Athena’ (2022)

Romain Gavras’ riotous ghetto thriller is something of a bristling bull both for its acrid texture and bravura filmmaking. Jaw-dropping in composition, the film contains a series of unbelievable long shots (even by “La La Land” standards) and essentially amounts to 90 minutes of social unrest inside a French housing development known as Athena. The name channels the god of war, and to the housing project war comes. The cause for so much violence is the death of an Algerian boy, purportedly by police. We begin with one of the boy’s brothers Abdel (Dali Benssalah), a decorated soldier just back from a foreign mission, listening to a officials’ press conference; the camera pivots and moves into the crowd, where another brother, Karim (charismatic, impressive newcomer Sami Slimane), hurls a Molotov cocktail at the podium, igniting a coordinated flash raid of the police station that feels like a scene out of John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976). Karim and crew abscond with weapons and take a hostage back to Athena, where a prolonged siege ensues, ebbing and erupting with the balance and outcomes shaped by the actions of Abdel, Karim and a third, older brother Moktar (Ouassini Embarek), the projects’ resident drug dealer, who all have very different agendas. The dynamics between the brothers and the bigger issues and prejudices amid raging war takes on the scope of Shakespearian tragedy. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: Gavras, who cut his teeth shooting music videos (M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls”), is the son of filmmaker Costa-Gavras, who made a whole career out of political unrest with “State of Siege” (1972), “Z” (1969) and “Missing” (1982) among the many. On Netflix.

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‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ (2022)

Not far off from “Promising Young Woman” (2020), this then-and-now tale starring Mila Kunis (“Black Swan,” “Jupiter Ascending”) notches another provocative and emotionally powerful contemplation on “boys being boys” and the women destroyed in the wake of just “having fun.” Screenwriter Jessica Knoll says some of her 2015 novel was inspired by her own experiences. Kunis plays Ani, a journalist with a New York Times gig just about in reach and a hunky fiancee (Finn Wittrock) with the right pedigree and then some. But then come flashbacks to the Main Line prep school where Ani was a scholarship kid and attracted the attention of the preppy jock pack to whom everything, including projectile vomiting, drunken driving and coatroom rape, are jokes. It doesn’t help that Ani’s mother (Connie Britton) is interested in airs and not rocking the social boat. “Luckiest Girl” finds its soul in sorting out the hazy and the gray, along with Kunis’ brave performance. On Netflix.

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‘Triangle of Sadness’ (2022)

Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner is a strange sojourn that doesn’t quite click with the intense, quirky fury of his “Force Majeure” (2014) or “The Square” (2017). The film’s told in three chapters, beginning with a bunch of young, shirtless male models aping for the lens in camaraderie but clear competition. We home in on one hunk named Carl (Harris Dickinson, “Where the Crawdads Sing”) whose standoffish girlfriend, Yaya (Charlbi Dean, a young actor-model who died after filming) is a trending influencer who makes more money than he does and reminds him of it often. The couple gets to go on the luxury cruise that makes up Chapter 2, with Woody Harrelson in a boozy cameo as the Marxist captain (though it’s Vicki Berlin, sporting a blonde pixie bob, who runs away with the film as the head steward). Chapter 3 takes us into “Lord of the Flies” territory with several of the boat’s passengers and crew marooned on an island with head toilet cleaner Abigail (Dolly De Leon) holding the conch as the only one who knows how to forage and make fire. The reversal of power structures and gender roles, and the grim extremes to which folks go, take the dark comedy into provocative and unsettling places, though it hits some wildly inane snags along the way, including a dinner party right out of Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” (1983). The title, as we’re told by a talent agent, refers to the area between the nose and the forehead that expresses the title emotion. At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St.

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‘Stars at Noon’ (2022)

Here’s something novel: Filmmaker Claire Denis (“High Life,” “Trouble Every Day”) adapting a book by the late writer Denis Johnson about shady spy games in 1984 Nicaragua. Denis (Claire, that is) updates the film just enough to include Internet cafes and smart devices. The film stars Margaret Qualley, so good in her brief turn as a sassy Manson-ite hitchhiker in “Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood” (2019). She’s also the daughter of actor Andie MacDowell, and has inherited mom’s impressive mane, which practically becomes the centerpiece of the film. Her Trish is a freelance journalist south of the border who can’t quite make ends meet on infrequent writing gigs. She’s not so well regarded in her field, so she hooks up occasionally with a person of influence – or not – for a fast 50, U.S. only. At a watering spot for gringos, Trish gets involved with a dapper Chris-Hemsworth-looking British lad named Daniel (Joe Alwyn, “Catherine Called Birdy”) who claims to be an energy consultant. Soon enough a Costa Rican intelligence agent (Danny Ramirez) and smarmy American (director Benny Safdie) with a neon “CIA” sign flashing above his head want Trish to help them get the goods on Daniel. The film’s a series of murky meanders, and while there’s some laconic intrigue, the real staying power is the interpersonal dynamics that run through Trish, despite the fact she’s not all that fleshed out or likable. It’s a breakout for Qualley. And speaking of hair that owns the frame, there’s a cameo by John C. Reilly, looking like he hasn’t had a haircut since the pandemic set in. At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St. and on Amazon Prime Video.

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‘Halloween Ends’ (2022)

We can only hope. The reboots to John Carpenter’s seminal slasher flick “Halloween”(1978) may be well-meaning homage, but their uninventive retoolings (be they by Rob Zombie or David Gordon Green, who’s at the controls here) are as much an insult to the altar they seek to worship at as the sequels that came from Carpenter’s original on which he smartly checked out. The Green series does have the benefit of putting Jamie Lee Curtis back in her role of imperiled babysitter Laurie Strode, now a grandma living in the same town where all the Michael Myers murderous mayhem began. That’s 40 years of blood and gore, and for real estate values alone no one’s brought in the FBI or National Guard? Hannibal Lecter never had such fertile feeding ground. In this alleged “final” chapter, a young man named Corey Cunningham (a bland Rohan Campbell) is bullied and in a way becomes Michael Myers’ protege – the two have bro-bonding rituals, I kid you not – while he woos Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak, back from “Halloween Kills”). Some of what goes on is near-incoherent, seemingly just to set up mindless gore and carnage that has little justification. Let’s just hope the title remains true to its promise. At Apple Cinemas Cambridge, 168 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge Highlands near Alewife and Fresh Pond; Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square; AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville; and streaming on Peacock.

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‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (2022)

Erich Maria Remarque’s tale of a young German soldier’s nightmarish journey through World War I gets a German production, which feels just and fitting after two Hollywood adaptations of the text: Lewis Milestone’s sweeping 1930 epic and the 1979 made-for-TV version starring Richard Thomas.“All Quiet” contrasts the patriotic idealism of a young enlistee (Felix Kammerer) with the grim reality of war. When we meet Kammerer’s wide-eyed Paul Bäumer, he’s all for the German agenda and eager to be part of the sacking of Paris, but those grand ideals fade fast amid awkward, bloody trench warfare, brutal hand-to-hand combat in mud pits and resilient French residents ready to take up arms. In scope and texture, much is similar to other recent great war sagas “1917” and “The Painted Bird” (both from 2019). Helmed by Edward Berger, this “All Quiet” is a worthy updating that takes a few chances with a slightly techno-infused score by Volker Bertelmann that adds to the onscreen tension with adroit uncanniness. At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St. and coming Oct. 28 to Netflix.


Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.